Black Snake Moan

Black Snake Moan

**1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

A peculiar little film which suffers from the delusion that it's something much bigger, Black Snake Moan is the story of an old bluesman determined to redeem the vulnerable and sexually aggressive young woman whom he finds dumped unconscious in the road. It features fine performances from a capable cast, but they struggle to raise it up from under the weight of sweltering Southern cliches, weak scripting and dubious psychology.

The film's main attraction is undoubtedly Christina Ricci as Rae. No doubt many viewers' main reason for going along will be the sight of her half naked and chained, and they won't be disappointed. This isn't entirely gratuitous, but it does become rather uncomfortable in the context of the film's self-consciousness about having something profound to say.

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On the one hand, Rae's feelings of lust are presented as unhealthy and a product of abuse; on the other, the audience is encouraged to lust over her. Furthermore, whilst the story depends on the development of a pseudo-familial relationship in which Jackson's bluesman is a father figure and she a child, it's frustrating that she is neither allowed nor expected to grow up - toward the end, where this might naturally happen, another character steps in to do it instead, and her redemption must come from finding new ways to surrender.

All this leaves rather an unpleasant taste in one's mouth, yet Ricci herself does her best with the role, and she's certainly charismatic, making up for lack of character development with sheer strength of personality. This, of course, is essential for her to hold her own opposite Jackson, and it's refreshing to see him stretch his acting muscles in a subtle role after so many years of playing the two-dimensional cool guy. He too manages to bring depth to a clumsily written character, turning internal contradictions into features rather than bugs.

The forceful performances from the two leads make for absorbing viewing and manage to hold this film together mast of the time, yet they still can't quite make sense of the relationship which develops between them. Clearly the film started out with a strong idea, but too many scenes feel like hastily scripted filler and many of the things the characters do don't seem to make sense for them, being there simply to drive the plot forward. As a result, the film drags in places and in others collapses into unintentional comedy.

Brewer's patchy direction just doesn't have what it takes to maintain the level of erotic tension he seems to be aiming for. He's also let down by Justin Timberlake, who is so hopelessly bland as the supposed love of Rae's life that it's hard to see why she'd bother to talk to him, let alone feel the passion which we have to be told about. There are occasional scenes here which stand out and are surprisingly powerful, but for the most part it's a TV movie in old-style Hollywood drag.

Reviewed on: 15 May 2007
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Bluesman tries to 'cure' nymphomaniac in messy melodrama, with chains.
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Amber Wilkinson **

Director: Craig Brewer

Writer: Craig Brewer

Starring: Samuel L Jackson, Christina Ricci, John Cothran Jr, Justin Timberlake, S Epatha Merkerson, David Banner, Bevan Bell, Cody Block, Clare Grant, Robert L. Jacobs, Rhianna Kelling

Year: 2006

Runtime: 118 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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Sundance 2007

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